How the Right Approach to Collaboration Can Foster an Empathetic Culture


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Collaboration is key to getting work done at any organisation, hence the investment in so many collaboration tools. Organisations not only are trying to get their employees to collaborate with each other, but also with customers. But according to a new article from the Harvard Business Review, leaders tend to think of collaboration narrowly: as a value to cultivate, not a skill to teach. 

The Harvard Business Review suggested taking a psychological approach to collaboration, not a heavy-handed corporate initiative. Sustained collaboration happens when employees respect each other’s contributions, are open to new ideas, and sensitive to how their actions affect the outcome. This doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and it requires a few things: listening, not talking; practicing empathy; being comfortable with feedback; leading and following at the right times; and speaking with clarity. 

Listening, not Talking, to Boost Collaboration

Teaching people to listen, not talk, is probably the most important out of all these elements. As employees communicate with each other and with customers, they need to be able to avoid conflicts and advance the conversation to everyone’s benefit. All too often, employees are taught to talk to get ahead: how to frame their arguments, how to get their points across, how to persuade someone.

But often they’re not listening, which can be disastrous for collaboration. They’re not setting aside their own self-interests to find out what the other person really wants, and they don’t know how to listen. According to the Harvard Business Review, asking expansive questions, not just yes or no, can be one way to listen to others. Expansive questions start with “what” and “how,” which prompts the other person to provide more information. 

They also need to focus on the listener, mirroring them and validating their statements. A colleague might say, “I’m buried in this report, and I have to get it done before I head off on vacation.” Instead of saying, “At least you’re getting a few days off!”, the focused listener would say something like, “It sounds like you’re really stressed out.”

Self-checks are also important for listening. This means evaluating their own listening abilities. At times, employees may need to participate in small group training to gauge how well they’re able to listen and understand the other person’s tone and perspective.

Finally, becoming comfortable with silence is a must. Sometimes, people feel like they need to chatter when silence arises, but those pauses can give rise to ideas from those who are more reticent. Additionally, during those silent moments, astute listeners can pick up on nonverbal cues like body language.

Environment Matters for Collaboration

As important as the psychological approach is to collaboration, the intention can only be enhanced by the method used to collaborate. Employees need to be enabled to collaborate in a communications environment that they are comfortable using, where the mode fits the context of the conversation. In some cases, that may be messaging or a quick phone call; in others, a video call is necessary. With so many preferred ways of collaborating, it helps to have the right environment where employees can communicate on their terms.

Employees need to be enabled to collaborate in a communications environment that they are comfortable using, where the mode fits the context of the conversation. Click To Tweet

It’s also important for them to know how to have win-win interactions with others. This requires optimising how they interact with people and using the right mode. There are times when a quick text message will do. Other times, a call or video conference is necessary so that the employee can understand the tone and sometimes even the body language of the person on the other side of the conversation.

The bottom line is that the right digital environment fosters the kind of listening and collaboration that engages employees. In turn, engaged employees provide better service to customers, no matter what department the employee is in. 

To learn more about how RingCentral can enable your own culture of collaboration, visit

Originally published 08 Nov, 2019, updated 13 Jan, 2023

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